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July 11, 2012

It’s our hidden wealth

Some things are so obvious that they don’t get noticed. For those policy makers obsessed with working out how to rebuild ‘broken’ Britain, to make the Big Society a reality or just simply to engage better with communities, the answer could be staring them in the face. According to a new report just out from think tank ResPublica,  instead of contriving endless new initiatives we should be investing in what they call the ‘hidden wealth of our communities’.


A new ResPublica report by Keith Cooper, Caroline Macfarland 

Full report click here.

Citizens who are members of local, social organisations forge relationships throughout their community, which benefit both individuals and society at large. The latest report from ResPublica, Clubbing Together: The hidden wealth of communities, argues that provoking group instead of individual behaviours, and using groups and clubs to draw in other individuals and communities, should be central to policy initiatives. Existing networks and associations, such as clubs and club-type activity, have the resources and connections to catalyse greater social good in communities.

The publication, supported by the Bingo Association, explores the value of membership and leisure activities in modern society in the context of a parallel decline in traditional models of association and levels of trust in society. It identifies how ‘club-type activities’ of various natures contribute to social and public good.

Written by Keith Cooper and Caroline Macfarland, the report argues that proper regard for the current and untapped value of club-type activities can bring great benefits to society – but with it comes a set of responsibilities. Those who expect citizens to engage in extra voluntary and charitable activity must help create suitable conditions for them to do so. Only then can such an expectation be considered reasonable. Policy changes at a national and local level are, however, too often introduced with little or no regard for how they damage or improve sources of social value.

The featured case studies demonstrate that the contagious attitudes of engagement found in clubs can not only generate hidden wealth, but also create ‘spin-offs’ of social value: benefits which spill over into the wider community, i.e. when social goods become springboards for public good.

In further exploring the factors that make some membership environments more successful than others, accessible space is highlighted as a crucial resource for clubs to become sustainable. Addressing the ways in which we can democratise and innovate the use of shared space for social purpose, the report provides a number of insights for public policy initiatives, as well as providing an ideal for private companies to contribute to the social networks and local communities within which they operate.


The conclusions of the report draw together our proposition that healthy, active communities cannot be defined by volunteering statistics, public service delivery or economic activity alone. National and local policy makers, community leaders and business representatives must acknowledge the inter-related nature of local social activity – which is often a hybrid of group affiliations and club memberships, consumer preferences, and informal bonds.

Because of the self-selected nature of these activities and groups, they often can’t be created by governments. However, where they do exist, they need more recognition, support networks and encouragement to flourish on a national basis. To this end, by aligning policy priorities with the recognition of the club-culture which already exists and how it can be nurtured, demonstrable results for social and public good will follow.